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Planning a pupcation: Dog-friendly spring break destinations across America

March 03, 2022
13 min read
Frolicking on the beach with dogs
Planning a pupcation: Dog-friendly spring break destinations across America
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With spring break right around the corner, now is the time to start locking in plans for a spring break vacation. If you have one or more dogs, that may mean bringing them along, too. After all, dogs are family, and you wouldn't want to exclude them from the fun.

Planning a pupcation may seem intimidating, but it’s a lot easier than you may think. Dogs generally love to travel, and unlike children, most don’t get cranky after a long day in the car.

Not to mention, many hotels across the country welcome four-legged friends, with the best not imposing size restrictions or charging excessive fees for pets. Plus, numerous destinations cater to canines by offering amenities like dog-friendly beaches, off-leash dog parks and restaurants with pup-approved patios and special menus.

So, whether your furry friend loves catching waves or chasing snowballs, you'll find a spot that's ideal for you and your dog. Read on to discover the best domestic locations for a dog-approved spring break getaway and everything you need to know before hitting the road or taking to the skies.

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Tips for traveling with a dog

Before any trip with your dog, it's important to plan ahead so you and your dog are prepared.

If you’re heading somewhere with mosquitos, for instance, make an appointment with your veterinarian so you can get your dog on heartworm preventatives (if they're not already part of your dog's regimen). The same goes for flea and tick medicines.

You'll also want to make sure your dog is up to date on vaccines in case you need to show proof of vaccination.

Dr. Bethany Yurek, a veterinarian who sees a lot of dog travel clients in her practice, cautions against waiting until the last minute to see your vet.

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“Schedule vet appointments far ahead of time to ensure there are no medical issues that need to be addressed before departure,” Yurek said. “This happens a lot. A client schedules an appointment for vaccine updates two days before they are leaving. I end up finding out the pet has parasites, or a UTI that needs to be addressed. If you visit your vet a few weeks before a trip, it is easier to advance treat this.”

Once your dog is all set with the vet, you're ready to prepare for your chosen mode of transportation.

Road-tripping with a woofer

(Photo by Catherine Falls Commercial/Getty Images)

While your dog may be used to short car rides, it's important to prepare for longer road trips so your dog is as comfortable as possible.

“If your dog isn't already used to taking road trips, try to desensitize him by taking multiple trips that are full of positive experiences before you plan a long travel day in the car,” Yurek said. “For example, take your pup to the park, to the pet store to pick out a new toy and offer treats or other rewards before the trip's end.”

To help dogs that are prone to car sickness, Yurek suggests taking frequent small trips that gradually increase in time or duration. Should a dog get severely car sick, there are a few things that can help: Use a plastic crate with solid walls so your dog can't look out the side windows of the car, avoid food before car trips and keep the windows cracked. You can also ask your vet about medication options that are helpful for motion sickness.

“Sometimes, anxiety is the cause for car sickness, so those dogs can benefit from anti-anxiety remedies," Yurek said. "Thunder Shirt, oral sedatives, CBD products, pheromone collars or, again, the use of a solid-sided crate” are all ways to minimize car sickness for your dog, according to Yurek.

Additionally, you'll want to make sure your dog has everything necessary in your vehicle. Bring food, water, medication, chews, puzzle toys, treats and a good collar and leash with tags.

Yurek also stresses the importance of taking regular breaks.

“Try to take breaks at least every three hours," Yurek said. "Some dogs will need more frequent breaks ... puppies and seniors can’t hold urine for as long.”

Flying with a small dog

(Photo by Su Arslanoglu/Getty Images)

If you decide to fly with your dog, know that there are airline-specific rules you must follow.

Most airlines allow dogs that weigh no more than 25 pounds to fly for an extra fee. There is no set fee across all airlines, but you can expect to pay between $100 and $200 each way.

Related: What you need to know about traveling with dogs on a plane

You’ll need to have a hard- or soft-sided kennel carrier that fits completely underneath the seat in front of you and meets the airline's size restrictions. Keep in mind, though, that the exact measurements will vary depending on the carrier. For example, United Airlines requires that kennels are no more than 18 inches long, 11 inches wide and 11 inches high. Meanwhile, carriers for JetBlue flights cannot be longer than 17 inches, wider than 12.5 inches and taller than 8.5 inches.

You must also notify the airline in advance that you are bringing a pet on board, since there are only a select number of animals that are permitted on each flight. While most airlines require calling to reserve a spot for your pet, some, like United, allow you to do this online at the time of booking. Once your dog is confirmed, you'll be assigned a specific seat in a row that can accommodate your dog's carrier.

Top spring break destinations for both you and your dog

After figuring out how you'd like to get to your destination, you can decide where to take your pup for spring break. Although the U.S. offers a variety of dog-friendly options, there are a few we're particularly fond of.

San Diego

Southern California is home to several surf-centric spots that are welcoming to both dogs and humans, but San Diego shines for several reasons. Its aptly named Dog Beach, which occupies the northern end of Ocean Beach, was the first official leash-free beach to open in the U.S. Protected by the Ocean Beach Town Council since 1972, the beach offers a surf break ideal for catching waves with your pup.

Don’t worry if your doggo doesn’t dig getting wet, though. There are several other attractions where you can bring your dog. Four-legged friends with an interest in socializing instead of hanging 10 can run around Balboa Park, where several dog parks are available. For active dogs, there's Cowles Mountain, which has 360-degree city and ocean views from the top. Sporty pups will be satisfied, too, as Petco Park (San Diego's professional baseball stadium) features a backyard-inspired section called the Barkyard that welcomes dogs and their guardians.

Where to stay: As far as accommodations go, you'll have access to a few dog-friendly options, though the Kimpton Palomar San Diego is a perennial favorite. Located in the city center, this boutique hotel doesn't charge a pet fee and welcomes dogs of all sizes. Pet amenities range from loaner beds and food bowls to complimentary dog waste bags. You'll also love the property's rooftop swimming pool and buzzy Mexican restaurant. Free nights during spring break season start at 41,000 points per night.

(Photo courtesy of the Kimpton Palomar San Diego/Facebook)

Puerto Rico

If you're traveling with a pup small enough to take on a flight, Puerto Rico is a great destination to consider for spring break. American visitors get the vibe of being in the Caribbean without having to show a passport. Plus, you won’t need an international health certificate for your dog to enter as a cabin pet since Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory. However, you are required to show proof of rabies vaccination in the past six months and that your dog has been microchipped.

In the capital city of San Juan, you'll find pup-friendly Ocean Park Beach, plus La Taberna Lupulo, a beer garden that invites dogs to join their owners as they eat and drink. Additionally, you and your canine pal can hike several dog-friendly trails at El Yunque National Forest. The tropical rainforest, which is the only one in the U.S. Forest Service system, can be found about 40 minutes southeast of San Juan.

Where to stay: A dog-friendly option close to the action is San Juan's Numero Uno Beach House. At this laid-back hotel, which has a pet fee of $25 per stay, you and your pup will be within steps of Ocean Park Beach. If you don't mind venturing a bit farther out, check out luxurious Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve. The five-star property, which welcomes small dogs with a one-time cleaning fee of $250, is set on a beautiful stretch of sand inside a 1,400-acre nature reserve originally established by Laurance Rockefeller. Standout amenities include two golf courses, a lazy river and a culinary center that hosts cooking classes.

Aspen and Vail, Colorado

Dogs that love snow will be more than content visiting Colorado in spring. March is historically Colorado's snowiest month of the year, according to the National Weather Service, so you'll likely enjoy some top-notch powder during your stay.

Two of the state's most popular ski spots, Aspen and Vail, are incredibly dog-friendly, making either location a great option for a spring ski vacation. When you're not spending some time shredding powder on the trails, take your dog on a snowy hike or enjoy the après-ski scene downtown. Many watering holes in both towns permit dogs on their patios. Head to Aspen's Ajax Tavern at the base of Aspen Mountain for a drink with your pup while people watching on the patio. Or, if you're in Vail, check out Bart & Yeti's in Lionshead Village, which is named after two canine companions who once frequented the bar.

Where to stay in Aspen: If you and your furry companion want to be pampered while on vacation in Aspen, then The Little Nell is the place for you. Located right on the slopes, this five-star resort is a celebrity favorite. Gourmet biscuits are doled out liberally, and dogs are welcome in the lobby portion of the restaurant. Dogs even have access to a special pup room service menu that includes gourmet salmon and meat entrees. After the one-time cleaning fee of $125, you'll pay $25 per night (plus the room rate) to stay with up to two dogs.

Where to stay in Vail: In Vail, you'll find an equally high-end setting at the Grand Hyatt Vail. Situated at the base of Vail Mountain by Gore Creek Trail, this chic category 6 Hyatt property offers all kinds of in-room items for pups, including food and water bowls, a dog bed and homemade treats. Plus, this ski-in/ski-out resort houses a spa, multiple eateries and two hot tubs, so you can unwind in style when you and your dog aren't out exploring. Points redemption rates start at 29,000 points per night in March and April, and a $100 per stay pet fee applies.

(Photo courtesy of The Little Nell/Facebook)

Sanibel Island and Key West, Florida

With two sun-kissed coastlines and balmy weather, Florida has long been a favorite spring break destination. It's also an awesome choice for a holiday with your beach-loving barker, as you'll have your pick of dog-friendly beaches throughout the state.

On the Gulf Coast, there's Sanibel Island, which is known for its stunning sunsets and seashells. Nearly all shores here welcome dogs, so you and your four-legged friend can easily find a spot to soak up some sun and run around. Gulfside City Park Beach (or Algiers Beach, as Sanibel residents call it) is a popular option thanks to its nature trail, boardwalk and wide shore. You can also check out J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, though your canine pal will need to stay leashed while exploring the dog-friendly Indigo Trail and Bailey Tract.

Related: 11 things to do on Florida's Sanibel and Captiva islands

Where to stay on Sanibel Island: This quiet island offers a variety of vacation rentals, plus a few dog-friendly hotels. Stay at Beachview Cottages to be right on the beach with your furry companion. You'll have your pick of studios and accommodations offering up to three bedrooms. While there's a pet fee, it's reasonable at $35 per dog, per night.

Key West's laid-back vibe also makes it a terrific destination for dogs. When you're not at a local beach, take your dog to the Key West Aquarium or the Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden. Smaller dogs can also visit the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, famous for its 50-plus cats with six toes, if they can be carried the entire time they're on-site. Also save time for Mallory Square's famous Sunset Celebration.

Where to stay in Key West: For a Key West spring break getaway with your dog, there's only one place you should consider: The Perry Hotel & Marina. At this pet-friendly hotel, which charges a $150 pet fee per stay (or $175 total if you're traveling with two pups), you can sign up for dog-approved water activities like stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking. Additionally, you'll have access to two on-site dog parks and homemade meals, treats and pupcakes prepared by Waggin Meals. Best of all, the dog-friendly rooms are on the ground floor and come with outdoor showers so you and your furry companion can clean up after a day in the ocean.

Related: 9 of our favorite points hotels in the Florida Keys

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.